ESPN Football Analyst Walks Away, Disturbed by Brain Trauma on Field

Football has dominated Cunningham’s life, he said, since he began playing as a freshman in high school. He was captain of the University of Washington’s 1991 national championship team and a third-round draft choice in the N.F.L., where he was an offensive lineman for five seasons. He has been a broadcaster since, paired for most of the last decade with the play-by-play announcer Mike Patrick for Saturday afternoon games televised on ABC and ESPN.

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From left, Brock Huard, Ed Cunningham, Chris Cotter and Bob Diaco spoke on the set of ESPN’s “College Football Live” in 2014.

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Rich Arden/ESPN Images

As a color analyst, primarily providing commentary between plays, Cunningham built a reputation among college football fans, and even coaches, for his pointed criticism toward what he thought were reckless hits and irresponsible coaching decisions that endangered the health of athletes. His strong opinions often got him denounced on fan message boards and earned him angry calls from coaches and administrators.

“I could hardly disagree with anything he said,” Patrick, who will have a new broadcast partner this season in Cunningham’s absence, said in a phone interview. “The sport is at a crossroads. I love football — college football, pro football, any kind of football. It’s a wonderful sport. But now that I realize what it can do to people, that it can turn 40-, 50-year-old men into walking vegetables, how do you stay silent? Ed was in the vanguard of this. I give him all the credit in the world. And I’m going to be outspoken on it, in part because he led me to that drinking hole.”

Still a sturdy 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Cunningham explained his position while sitting in a booth at Legends Sports Bar in Long Beach, near his home. The booth had its own television, silently rebroadcasting an N.F.L….

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